Updated April 21st, 2020.
The answer to “Should I update my Mac to 10.11.6?” is easy if you’re already on 10.11.0, or 10.11.1, or 10.11.2, or 10.11.3, or 10.11.4, or 10.11.5. In those situations, the answer is definitely YES. Upgrade to 10.11.6 (using the 10.11.6 combo update, which I describe and link to further down). (Those of you who are not on 10.11 already: continue reading as I have advice for you as well.)
Apple provides a tiny bit of information about what they’re delivering with this update
- “Resolves an issue that may prevent settings from being saved in accounts with parental controls enabled.”
- “Resolves an issue that prevented some network devices, such as speakers and multifunction printers, from accessing SMB share points.”
You might be thinking “Big deal– this doesn’t apply to me.” And maybe it doesn’t. But there’s another reason to update to 10.11.6: lots and lots of security fixes. (This is also why you should update your iPhone and iPad to iOS 9.3.3).
There is always a risk when installing a system upgrade but there is also a risk (a security risk) if you don’t. I advise all Mac users with any version of 10.11 already installed to upgrade to 10.11.6 because the security improvements are so important. Do it the “pro” way (see below).
The Pro Way to Update Your Mac
Apple makes it very easy to update your Mac. They put messages on your screen saying they have updates for you, and all you have to do is click “install.” That’s usually a fine way to do things, but for system updates (as opposed to iTunes updates, or security updates, or app updates) the pros do it another way. Here’s how:
- Restart your Mac. If any apps start up, quit them. We want to make a nice clean environment for the installer.
- Use your favorite web browser to search for the “Combo Update” for the system you’re upgrading to. In this case, google for “10.11.6 combo update.” (Restrict the search to apple.com by putting “site:apple.com” at the end of what you’re searching for– see my article on restricting a google search to a single site.) The page you’re looking for looks like this:
You may be wondering “What’s a combo update?” Great question. The answer is, it’s everything needed to take 10.11.0 to 10.11.6 (not just from 10.11.5 to 10.11.6). That means it’s a bigger, more robust, more complete updater than the one you’d get by using Apple’s regular software update mechanism, because the regular updater contains only the stuff needed to get you from the system you’re currently on to 10.11.6. That is, if you’re on 10.11.5, and you’re updating to 10.11.6, Apple installs only those parts needed to make the small jump from .5 to .6, as if your Mac has a perfect 10.11.5 installation already. The Combo Updaters have the parts needed to take you from .0 to whatever the current system is. More stuff in the updater means more chances to fix problems that may have cropped up along the way (maybe your current installation has some damaged system files, for example).
If I were you I’d do the Combo Update every time.
Note: If you’ve already installed 10.11.6 the easy, automatic, click-the-install-button-when-it-pops-up way, you can still apply the Combo Update. It won’t make things worse, and there’s a chance it will make things better. Seasoned Mac pros sometimes apply a combo update to a machine that seems a little bit “off,” and sometimes that makes things better. Not always, but sometimes. It’s worth trying.
Note 2: installing the 10.11.6 combo update sometimes– not always– leads to a VERY slow initial restart. It’s only the first restart that’s slow; after that, everything is normal. Don’t apply this update when you are in a hurry!
For those with older systems
If you are not on 10.11 at all, but rather on 10.10 or lower, we have some thinking to do. The change from 10.10.x to 10.11.x is not going to throw you off much, and almost everything that works in 10.10.x will work in 10.11.x, and you do get some new things in 10.11, so if you’re on 10.10 and you’re wondering about 10.11, my advice is upgrade to 10.11. This kind of upgrade (from one system to another) has to happen via the Apple menu/App Store method. There’s no “Combo Update” to take you from 10.10 to 10.11. It’s a long download (5 GB) so be prepared to spend some time.
If you are on 10.9, the move to 10.11 is probably the right thing to do, but check with Roaring Apps to see if there are any incompatibilities. (If you’re using an older piece of software and it’s very important to you, double-check that it will work with 10.11.6 before you upgrade. Don’t take chances if you don’t have to.)
If you’re on 10.8, I would not advise upgrading to 10.11. It will probably be too much for your machine, resulting in slow performance. You may be forced to upgrade due to some websites requiring newer versions of Safari and Chrome that you can’t run on your 10.8.5 Mac but if I were you, I would hold out if you’re not forced to move up.
Things to check in advance of doing any system update
Is the disk in good shape? Is there room for the update? Use the Disk Utility (in your Utilities folder, in the Applications folder) to run First Aid, and while you’re in there look at how much room is available. You should have at least 10% free. I was right on the edge– time to throw a few things away!
Do you have a recent backup? You’d better. If something goes wrong the backup will bail you out. Use the Time Machine menu to “Back Up Now.” (If you don’t use Time Machine for backing up, you should. Get a disk, plug it in, and let Apple back your machine up automatically.)
Do you have 8 GB of RAM (or more)? Look at About This Mac under the Apple menu and find out. If you only have 4 GB your Mac is going to crawl with 10.11. Ask my sister (who upgraded before asking me). You want to have 8 GB, or 16 GB if you can. Four GB of RAM is just not enough.
If your disk is in good shape, and you have a recent backup, and you have enough RAM, and you’ve checked for software incompatibilities, and you’re not trying to make the move from 10.8 to 10.11, then installing 10.11.6 (even from 10.9) is probably fine. Remember to use the Combo Update for best results.
If you have other questions, contact me. Use the form on my Contact page.
Wondering whether to upgrade your iPhone? Here’s my article about updating to iOS 9.3.3.